'Thy Friend, Obadiah'

Story Time

July 15, 1998|By Brinton Turkle

Editor's note: A Quaker boy is none too excited when a sea gull befriends him. But he changes his mind after helping the injured bird.

Wherever Obadiah went, a sea gull was following him. It followed him all the way to the candle maker's, and it was waiting for him when he came out of the shop.

When he was sent to the wharf for a fresh codfish, it hopped along behind him.

And at night when he went to bed, he could see it from his window. There it was, perched on the chimney of the shed, facing into the wind. Of all the sea gulls on Nantucket Island, why did this one go everywhere Obadiah went?

On First Day, everyone dressed up warmly and went to Meeting. The Starbuck family formed a little parade. First, Father and Mother. Then Moses and Asa and Rebecca and Obadiah and Rachel. Behind them came the sea gull, hopping along as if it were going to Meeting too.

"Go away!" said Obadiah. The bird fluttered off, but it soon came back.

He picked up a pebble and threw it at the bird. He missed. The sea gull flew out of sight, but when Meeting was over, there it was - waiting for him.

It got so that Obadiah didn't want to go out of his house.

At breakfast, Father said, "Obadiah, how is thy friend?"

"What friend?" asked Obadiah, his mouth full of muffin and plum jam.

"Thy very own sea gull!" said Asa.

Rebecca giggled.

"That bird is not my friend!" Obadiah shouted.

Mother raised a finger. "Don't distress thyself, Obadiah," she said. "I think it is very nice that one of God's creatures favors thee."

"Well, I don't like it," said Obadiah. "Sea gulls don't follow anyone else around!"

Soon after breakfast it began to snow. In the afternoon, Mother wrapped a woolen scarf around Obadiah and sent him to Jacob Slade's mill with some money and a sack for flour.

The bird was nowhere to be seen. "Maybe it doesn't like the snow," Obadiah told himself. "Maybe it flew away to the mainland." He was so glad it wasn't hopping along after him that he made duck tracks all the way up Jacob Slade's hill.

The miller filled the flour sack, and Obadiah gave him the money Mother had tucked in his mitten.

"Keep this, lad," Jacob Slade said, giving him a penny. "And don't let it burn a hole in thy pocket."

On the way home, Obadiah tried to slide on a patch of ice, but he skidded and fell head over heels. His hat went flying. Snow got in his ears and in his boots. His breeches got wet and so did the sack of flour. His knee hurt and the penny was gone forever in the snowbank. He was all alone on the hill. Shivering and sniffling, he picked himself up and limped home.

Sea gulls were perched on almost every housetop on Orange Street; but he couldn't find the special sea gull that had been following him. The birds were faced into the raw east wind and paid no attention to him at all.

Mother was very cross about the wet flour. She gave Obadiah a hot bath and dry clothes and right after supper she made him drink something hot that tasted awful. "Is thy knee still hurting thee?" she asked.

"It's better." Obadiah wished he felt better about the lost penny.

"Then get into bed."

Obadiah said his prayers, and as soon as Mother was gone he got out of bed and tiptoed to the window. The sea gull was not there. He got back into bed again and wondered what had happened.

The next day and the next day and the day after that, no bird followed Obadiah when he left his house. Every night he looked out of his window, but the sea gull didn't come back.

Then he saw it down at the wharf. It was with some other gulls where a little fishing boat was docked; but something was wrong. A large rusty fishhook dangled from its beak.

"That's what happens when thee steals from a fishing line. Serves thee right," Obadiah said and walked away.

He was on the cobblestone street by the blacksmith's shop when he discovered that the sea gull was hopping along behind him.

Obadiah stopped. The bird stopped. The fishhook bobbed in the wind.

"If thee is quiet, I'll try to get that off thy beak."

The sea gull didn't move.

"I won't hurt thee," Obadiah said.

The bird allowed him to come nearer and nearer. In a moment, the fishhook was in Obadiah's hand and the sea gull was wheeling into the sky making little mewing sounds. It flew toward the lighthouse. Obadiah watched until he couldn't see it any longer; then he threw the rusty hook away and went home.

He sat on a stool to eat ... and between mouthfuls he told them what had happened.

"Well," said Rachel, "thee won't see that silly old bird again."

"No," said Obadiah. "I expect I won't."

At bedtime, after she had tucked him in, Mother went to the window. "Obadiah," she said. "Look here."

He tumbled out of bed.

"Isn't that thy sea gull?"

There it was on the chimney, facing into the wind in the clear blue night!

"That's him!" said Obadiah. "He looks cold out there, Mother."

The wind whistled around the corner of the house and Obadiah snuggled down into the quilts.

"Mother ..."

"Yes, Obadiah."

"That sea gull is my friend."

"I'm glad, Obadiah. Good night."

"And, Mother ..."

Mother turned at the door. Her candle flickered and almost went out. "Yes, Obadiah," she said.

"Since I helped him, I'm his friend, too."

THY FRIEND, OBADIAH by Brinton Turkle. Copyright Brinton Turkle, 1969. Published by arrangement with Viking Children's Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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